Why I’m Lucky to Exist – My Veteran Grandfathers

Instead of talking today about my progeny, I’m going to say something about my grandfathers.

Because it is Veteran’s Day and the sacrifices they and others have given for our country should be honored and talked about.

I admit, I know little about the military.  I was never an army brat. My father somehow lucked out as an ROTC officer and missed going to Vietnam. In true irony, his number was low, but they had more officers than enlisted men at the time, so he wasn’t sent.

My mother was in ROTC (or whatever the female equivalent) before I was born.  Neither stayed in the military.

My uncle, my mom’s brother, did stay, and retired at age 50 a Lieutenant Colonel.  He never served on “active” duty because of his field.

But my grandfathers… Both served in World War II.

My Grandpa Fred served in the army.

Grandpa Fred (in glasses) in Dec 1974 with family

Sadly, I don’t know a lot about his years in the military. He never spoke about it. He passed away before I graduated college and lived in Arkansas for most of my life.  This meant perhaps only one or two visits a year. It was before the days of internet and video conferencing: snail mail and phone calls were the only options, and my grandmother was typically the one to participate in those activities.

It wasn’t until my father gave Grandpa Fred’s eulogy that I discovered how lucky I am to even exist.

Grandpa Fred served in Europe. And his job? Driving a gasoline truck.

My maternal grandfather, G-pa, was a Navy man.

Lil Diva hams it up for G-pa in May 2010

G-pa joined the Navy before he was technically legal to do so.  He was one of eight kids during the Great Depression.  The Navy was an escape to a better life.

Within the last ten years or so, G-pa has opened up and started talking about his military service.  He’s 87 years old, and wants to share the stories so that people will remember and share them. So all of his friends that didn’t make it are remembered.

Again, I learned that it truly is a miracle I even exist.

G-pa was “chosen” to be a part of the very new Under Water Demolition Team.  And by chosen I mean “Whoever does not have a wife or children waiting for you, please step forward.”

Why? Because the risk was so incredibly high.  They were the early version of what would later become the Navy SEALs.

G-pa served on a submarine in the Pacific for most of his duty, something I can’t even imagine.

He has good memories of some of it: like getting a box of dominoes which were a huge hit in the rec/mess hall.  G-pa is something of a MacGyver – despite little schooling – he just sees a need and finds something to fix it. He built a casing to hold the dominoes on the table so they wouldn’t go flying on the floor during maneuvers.

There were other things though, that I cannot imagine ever doing.

Fighting for your life being only one of them.

He told of how they transferred you to another submarine.  I don’t know if this was Standard Operating Procedure, or something for his team in particular, but it stuck with me.

They put you in a raft. With chained weights.

If a sub surfaced and it wasn’t one of ours, you were supposed to throw yourself over the side rather than risk you and your information getting into enemy hands.

The waiting to be picked up – not knowing if The Right Side would find you – can you even imagine that?

He fought in Japan.  He was there when the flag was raised at Iwo Jima.  Twice. Once for “real.” Once for the photo op, where one of his team members was chosen to participate.

On G-pa’s 80th birthday we viewed a slide show of photos from his tour.

G-pa would point at the three jubilant guys grinning in the photos with him. His buddies.  He’d tell a story about them. Then almost always it was followed by, “He was killed in action four days later.  And he died a few weeks later at (insert battle here).

He was on at least one ship that was hit by a torpedo and was forced wait in the water to be picked up.

My G-pa didn’t stop at World War II, either. He also served in Korea.

April 1951 - Just before shipping out to Korea for over a year.

He shipped out when my mom was a baby.  And when he came back, it took her a while to warm up to him, because she initially had no idea who That Strange Guy was.

I look at my Lil Diva and try to imagine how it would feel if she didn’t know me, or CG – and it breaks my heart.

I hope nowadays, with the technology advances, skyping, facetime, etc, that those active duty parents are able to at least bond better with their families while so far away, doing their duty for their country.

“All gave some. Some gave all.”

My G-pa survived, even with odds against him.  Most of his friends didn’t.

Thank you G-pa for your service to this country. It is unfathomable to me some of the things you experienced. The sacrifices you made. You are an amazing person and I’m forever grateful that I was able to grow up with you and G-ma living so close.

Grandpa Fred, if you’re watching from somewhere, know that I miss you and wish I’d had a chance to really talk to you as an adult.  To get to know you better.  You and Grandma B raised six amazing children and as I struggle with my day to day parenting, know that I look to you both for inspiration.

Please, take a moment on Veteran’s Day to honor those Veterans, both past and present, who helped fight to make a better life for us.

There is an excellent post here, detailing a more inside look of what military life is like.

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About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos (www.writingwithchaos.com) sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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17 Responses to Why I’m Lucky to Exist – My Veteran Grandfathers

  1. Vicky says:

    Both my grandad’s too. One of them also in WW2 and Korea (UK army, Tank Regiment). One of them also called Fred! Both came home. I am lucky to have known them. We will be remembering today.

    • Kelly K says:

      I’m lucky in that my G-pa is still around, but it’s been over 10 years since I lost Grandpa Fred to cancer. I truly cannot imagine being in their shoes. Or in those that still fight today.

  2. Beautiful tribute. What wonderful stories — I can’t imagine what it must have been like waiting for that submarine. Truly hero kind of stuff. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Amy

    • Kelly K says:

      Yes, I don’t do so well with “not knowing” and my brain tends to jump to “worst case scenarios.” I’m so glad he’s shared a small part of that time of his life.

      According to my mom, I have a few details wrong about my Grandpa Fred, but I knew little to start with. An added note: he was the only one to survive out his unit – which is why he never talked about it.

      Thank you for sharing your story. I had no idea you were a military wife until I read it. I admire your strength and adaptability. Sometimes I can’t take it if my husband works until 6 if the kids are driving me crazy, much less have him absent for months to a year or more.

  3. Kelly – such a great post. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Stephanie says:

    Very touching. Isn’t it great that you got to hear some of the stories? I can’t imagine living through what he went though either. Its hard for us here to imagine what these brave men and women go through everyday.

    • Kelly K says:

      I really need to record the stories, because nobody can tell them quite like he can.

      It is unfathomable to me what our veterans when through and what those serving now are going through.

  5. The alaskan says:

    G-pa is 87, not 86. Born 1923. 🙂 Great post!

    • Kelly K says:

      DOH!

      First thing to go in motherhood: your memory. How I thought you were married in the same year Diva was born could only make sense to a Mommy brain.. :p

      There. Fixed.

  6. Pingback: Veteran’s Day: Why the Odds Were Against My Existence | Dances with Chaos

  7. Great story. Thanks for sharing, Kelly.

    It reminds us all to be grateful that we are here in the first place…and that our country is what it is because of these men (and women) who have fought for our freedoms.

    I honor them now and always.

  8. mish says:

    Popping in from WOE weekend linky.
    A touching and inspiring tribute to a great man.

  9. Kathleen says:

    I’m just now beginning to really regret the loss of the kind of stories you relate. I hope you have some sort of recorder and can get these “on tape” for future generations. So much of that generation is now passing away, and it makes me sad how much will be lost when they are gone.

  10. A beautiful tribute, Kelly. Lest we forget.

  11. Anastasia says:

    Great way to honor veterans! That lil’ diva and your Grandpa picture is too adorable!

  12. Pingback: The Most Fragrant Man I Have Ever Met | Dances with Chaos

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